‘Daybreak’ and ‘Looking for Alaska’ unleash streaming teen troubles
Every demographic gets its own slice of the streaming pie, but teenagers remain one of the highest-profile niches. Enter a pair of series devoted to teen troubles, Hulu’s “Looking for Alaska,” adapted from a young-adult novel; and Netflix’s “Daybreak,” a strange construct set in a post-apocalyptic world.
“Looking for Alaska” clearly wants to be Hulu’s answer to “13 Reasons Why,” a time-bending soap opera — based on John Green’s book — that opens with a car crash, then backs into the meat of the story.
Set in Orlando in 2005, the focus of that would be Miles (Charlie Plummer), a new arrival at a snotty boarding school who is rather morbidly obsessed with the final words of famous people, and who approaches the mystery that is his future by describing it as “The Great Perhaps.”
A little lost in his new surroundings, Miles almost instantly befriends the outcasts and runs afoul of the cool kids. His circle includes Alaska (Kristine Froseth), hence the title, as well as the nickname-bestowing the Colonel (Denny Love) and Takumi (Jay Lee).
Alaska and her buddies love pulling pranks, much to the chagrin of the school’s headmaster (“Veep’s” Timothy Simons). Still, this is all pretty stiff, predictable stuff, built around the operatic pangs of teen romance and the mystery of Alaska’s fate, with peripheral forays into class and racial divides.
All told, the eight-episode limited series is a pretty slim if earnest conceit, although it has more heft than “Daybreak,” which exhausts its best joke at the outset, when the camera zooms past Hollywood and Beverly Hills and settles on the unlikely venue for this end-of-the-world dramedy — namely, drab old Glendale, Cal.
Like “Looking for Alaska,” the ostensible lead, Josh (Colin Ford), is looking for a girl — in this case Sam (Sophie Simnett), with whom he bonded before the nuclear blast that turned everything upside down, eradicating the adults while leaving teenagers (conveniently) unscathed.
The inexplicable aftermath of all that enables various tribes of teens to essentially run amok — think the high-school caste system on steroids — with theadded degree of difficulty that everyone risks getting killed or eaten. Josh’s infatuation with Sam, meanwhile, unfolds via a series of flashbacks.
It is, by any measure, a pretty tepid addition to an already saturated genre, its main point of differentiation being the “Lord of the Flies” riff in transplanting the social strata of high school onto a ruthless dog-eat-dog (OK, zombie-eat-human) landscape.
The whole zombie thing, in fact, is largely an excuse just to get the parents out of the picture (mostly), which seems unnecessary. After all, Charlie Brown and company didn’t feel compelled to resort to such extremes. (Matthew Broderick pops up in the aforementioned flashbacks as the school principal, which is appropriate, since the vibe is a mix of “The Road Warrior” and “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.”)
Yes, one’s teen years are defining and formative, but the crush to appeal that audience (including several TV networks devoted to them, in whole or part) has gone a bit overboard. Indeed, these show follow “The Birch,” a short-form horror show about three teens dealing with a mysterious force lurking in the woods, which just made its debut on Facebook Watch; and precede “High School Musical: The Musical: The Series,” an extension of that franchise that will debut Nov. 12 on Disney+, the studio’s new streaming service.
Amid that glut, neither “Looking for Alaska” nor “Daybreak” seems destined to resonate much beyond narrow bases, but stranger things — and “Stranger Things” — have happened. Until then, file them under “The Mediocre Perhaps.”
“Daybreak” premieres Oct. 24 on Netflix. “Looking for Alaska” premieres Oct. 18 on Hulu.